In 2006, I drafted Clinton Portis as my lead running back. I don’t even remember who my second running back was, but, in the late rounds, I picked myself up a rookie with too many names, Maurice Jones-Drew.
When Jones-Drew blew up with his big rookie season (1300+ yards and 15 TDs), I thought I was going to dominate with the Portis/Jones-Drew tandem until Portis broke his hand in Week 10 and killed my playoff chances. I had no viable replacement for Portis’ consistent point production because I had filled my bench with a few filler wide receivers and running backs that had poor schedules to end the season.
Fantasy owners who are sitting pretty right now have to start building for the playoffs. You want to balance your roster, strengthen your studs if you can by trading up and acquire a bench of players that, if nothing else, will have dominant performances in Weeks 14-16, when it matters most.
The waiver wire is critical from here on out because it can shift the power among the top teams and bring in the depth and talent that you need to win your league. Don’t think that you can become complacent now just because your team is sitting on top or sulking on the bottom.
Last year, in one of my veteran leagues, the playoff contenders were pretty evenly matched heading into the last part of the regular season until a team that was winning with the duo of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss picked up Kurt Warner and Ryan Grant off waivers.
Well, you can guess how that worked out for him. What a lucky jackass smart guy.
Here are a few potential fantasy free agents that could help you do that same in 2008.
Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
If no one picked him up last week or if your league remains unimpressed by his eight catches for 61 yards against the Giants, make sure you put him on your roster this week. His schedule gets MUCH better, and if Branch is injured, that means even more balls coming his way — and that’s what she said. I prefer Engram to Branch, even when neither of them have foot pain. After Green Bay and the Bucs, Engram will open it up against the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals…it keeps going from there. He’s just the kind of guy you want on your playoff team as well with matchups against the Rams and Jets in Week 15 and Week 16.
Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Remember experimenting with him as a wide receiver? It’s happening now…and working. Without Brandon Lloyd, Hester is the homerun threat, and Orton is making him dangerous for opposing defenses. Enjoy him while the Bears go through the soft, chewy center of their schedule.
Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins
Some people just jump out on you when they finally get a touchdown. Pennington won’t open it up down the field that much, but he’s got to start throwing to someone other than his tight ends as he matures in the Dolphin’s offense. Camarillo has 17 catches through four games, his bye has already passed and he’s got a sick playoff schedule with the 49ers and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16. If you currently have Ted Ginn, Jr. on your roster, first of all, slap yourself. Second, pick up Camarillo instead.
Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears
Tight ends are a big hit on the waiver wire this week. Olsen is the first one on the list. Other than Marty Booker and his “spider-sense” hands, Olsen is one of the best pass catchers the Bears have on their roster. He’s getting some big plays down the field and has been more productive in Brandon Lloyd’s absence. Matchups like this week against Atlanta shouldn’t hurt his chances to get a second TD either. Orton is targeting him rather than Desmond Clark these days, and as Orton goes, so goes Greg Olsen.
Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets
Brett Favre and Keller connected almost immediately this season, and Favre is throwing out touchdowns like candy in a parade. You want this guy on your roster. Say it with me now: I want this guy on my roster. If you don’t have a top tight end on your roster or Dustin Keller after reading that paragraph…well, then there is no hope for you, buddy. You’ll never improve your tight end situation, quit smoking or hypnotize yourself into losing weight. I give up.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this guy. His name is just so freaking hard to type. It’s like his parents named him by looking at a QWERTY keyboard and choosing letters that were really far apart. No, really, Shiancoes, I’m on to you. As long as Frerotte is starting, the Vikings will need a red zone target. Otherwise, every defense just stacks the box to keep Adrian Peterson out of the end zone when they are close. Shank-o is a red zone man. He’s got two TDs this season including the TD pass from Chester Taylor this past weekend. Since we’re so big on playoff schedules this week on the wire, how about Lions, Cardinals and Falcons?
Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
If I mentioned two of his best options, I guess that means I have to mention him again…doesn’t it? Orton tied for the top spot at QB in Week 5. In Week 6, he faces Atlanta. It makes me sick to think of him as a fantasy-worthy QB as well, but I’m starting him this week. When is Orton going to get his first endorsement for Gilette or Norelco?
Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He looked better than Earnest Graham in Week 5 against the Broncos. Graham should have had a field day on that defense. I’m worried if I am a Graham owner.
Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Back at full health, he’s the starting running back for one of the best rushing offenses in football. McFadden might demand more touches at this point, but Fargas will still get some cred since he had the job first. It’s a rule of the workplace. Haven’t you ever had a steady corporate job with a ladder to nowhere?
Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned previously in my thoughts from Week 5, Chris Perry’s hold on the starting job in Cincy isn’t going to get much weaker than it is right now. Benson will obviously play a larger role in Week 6, but he could take over the reigns completely. I mean, what’s he got to beat? Averaging less three yards per carry and leading the league in fumbles? Even for Benson, that’s doable.
Ones to Watch
Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Also revealed in my thoughts from Week 5, Walker is one of a handful of sleepers I had on a list to start the season. He hadn’t quite woken up yet and flirted with close to 50 yards in the Houston game, but he came alive against the Steelers with six passes for 107 yards. He’s worthy of putting on a roster at this point in the season. If he turns into a go-to possession and red zone receiver, Walker could become a staple of your starting lineup. He may have gotten a little torn up on Sunday night, so watch the reports before you make a grab. If healthy, I see nothing but upside, but he’s so small time as a Jacksonville WR that you might be able to wait on him.
Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
I really want to see Kevin Curtis take the field this season, and he could be close to it. McNabb is stalling out a bit as of late, but he was firing away the first two weeks. I’m sure he’d get a boost throwing to Curtis alongside DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown. Keep an eye on him.
Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington fills a role similar to Devery Henderson on the Saints or Chansi Stuckey on the Jets. He’s the third WR who goes for a lot of big plays. He’s not always hit with lots of passes, but when he gets one, he can take it to the house. Washington has looked more solid than Santonio Holmes over the last several weeks, and he’s not a bad start when the Steelers are going to be passing frequently. Washington had 95 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville this past weekend.
Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans
It pains me to only be able to list VY as a “one to watch,” but the Titans are on a bye. I know Young isn’t supposed to take back the reigns on the starting job, and more than likely, it won’t happen in Week 7, BUT (I like big buts…) I believe that his return to the starting lineup is inevitable. He’s too talented with too much invested in him for the Titans to pass it off to Kerry Collins. If VY returns and hits his stride in the NFL, he finishes up against the Jets, Lions, Browns and Texans before facing the Steelers in Week 16. In a free agent pool of substitute QBs, VY has the greatest upside. Don’t let that get away from you.
Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
He’s a sufficient Westbrook substitute, but just like Splenda, he’s nothing like the real thing. It’s just got that twang that makes you know it’s not the real stuff, you know? I believe Westbrook will go in Week 6 against the 49ers, but if they hold him back until after their Week 7 bye, Buckhalter is the guy you want to fill in for your roster.
Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos
Mike Shanahan couldn’t stop raving about Torain before the season started, and then Torain got hurt and missed out on the season up until now. I’m going to start mentioning him as a watch for now, but he’s probably going to jump into the grab-worthy category once he is cleared to practice. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Shanahan never gave him a single carry after talking so much about him just to make fantasy owners waste a spot on their roster? < — Not a joke.
Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks
When he comes back from injury, he could challenge Julius Jones for carries or the starting role. That’s not the most valuable starting fantasy RB job in the NFL, but you might seriously be contemplating putting Cedric Benson on your team. Call me a Julius Jones hater, but I just like Morris better. Watch him.
Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Old bones is back in football pads. It’s sort of anticlimactic now that he isn’t even catching a whiff of the starting role, but Green is bound to be somewhat productive…until his next injury. He’s worth watching only if you need a bye week fill or if you just really like the Texans. Crickets? No one?
Flukes or Droppables
Hank Baskett, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Brown has stolen back his starting spot, so Baskett is back on the bench. At least he sort of, maybe, in gossip blog terms dated one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. Say goodbye to Kendra, Hank. Your fifteen minutes seconds are up.
Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
I still hate LeRon McClain, but he totally sniped Rice’s job from him. Maybe he ate Ray Rice. Has anyone checked? Oh, God.
Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
Hall is about to be swallowed up by the Torain train and/or the black hole that is the running back depth chart in Denver. His injury just provides one more reason to let him go.
Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t just ditch him on the side of the road. He’s still a starting running back for a *potentially* high-powered offense, but it’s very possible that he could lose his job just like his lost all the marbles over the last five games. I’d seek greener, better gripping pastures.